Seven charts on the 2017 budget update


Ross Guest, Griffith University

Here’s how the budget is looking at the mid-year mark, in seven charts.


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The A$5.8 billion drop in the 2017-18 underlying cash deficit compared with the original May budget is due more to higher revenue than lower spending. Receipts are higher by A$3.6 billion and payments are lower by A$2.1 billion.

The higher receipts reflect the stronger economy, which implies higher company tax (up A$3.2 billion) and superannuation fund taxes (up A$2.1 billion).

Receipts would have been even higher if not for stubbornly weak wages growth which, despite stronger employment growth, has tended to dampen individuals’ income tax receipts. These are in fact down by A$0.5 billion.

The estimates of GST and other taxes on goods and services remain unchanged since the budget.

The lower payments of A$2.1 billion are driven by several changes having opposite effects. Some of these are:

  • A$1.2 billion (over four years) lower welfare payments to new migrants due to longer waiting times;

  • A$1 billion (over four years) lower payments to family daycare services due to more stringent compliance checking; and

  • A$1.5 billion (over four years) lower disability support payments due to lower than expected recipient numbers.

There is not much change in the net debt projections relative to those in the 2017-18 budget. Net debt is A$11.2 billion lower at A$343.8 billion in 2017-18 (around 19% of GDP). Debt stabilises in 2018-19 and starts to steadily decline thereafter to about 8% of GDP in the next ten years.

The lower deficits as a share of GDP are obviously reducing debt, but one factor tending to increase debt is student higher education loans. These are projected to increase by 32% from A$44.4 billion to A$58.8 billion over just the next four years.


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The economic outlook continues to be a puzzle. National output of goods and services, real GDP, is expected to grow slightly slower in 2017-18 than the budget forecast – 2.5% compared with 2.75%.

However this is an improvement on the 2% achieved in 2016-17. And it is expected to increase further to 3% in 2018-19.

The economy is being driven by strong global growth and strong domestic business investment. Australia’s major trading partners are forecast to grow (meaning real GDP growth) at a weighted average of 4.25% in each of the next three years.

Wages and household consumption are the puzzle – they are not growing as fast as expected from the stronger than expected employment growth (up 0.25% on the budget to 1.75%) and lower than expected unemployment rate (down 0.25% on the budget to 5.5%).

Household consumption growth is down 0.5% on the 2017-18 Budget forecast to 2.25%. This has in fact become a global phenomenon due to higher costs and job insecurity from the forces of globalisation and automation.


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Commodity prices are notoriously volatile and hard to predict, yet they are critical to the budget forecasts because they impact the revenue of resource companies which feeds into company taxes and other taxes.

Iron ore prices are assumed to remain flat at US$55 per tonne over the forecast period, as in the budget. This forecast is almost certain to be wrong because iron ore prices never stay flat for long – the problem is that we can’t say in which direction it will be wrong.

The same applies to thermal coal prices which are assumed to be flat at US$85 per tonne which is again consistent with the budget forecast.


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Australian taxpayers continue to bear most of the burden of budget repair. The government can claim with some justification that their efforts to reduce payments further have been thwarted by the Senate.

Excluding the effect of Senate decisions, new spending has been more than offset by reductions in other spending. The gap between the revenue and payment is reducing at the rate of about 0.6 percent per year.

As a share of GDP payments are expected to be 25.2% in 2017-18, falling to 24.9% of GDP by 2020-21 which is slightly above the 30-year historical average of 24.8% of GDP.


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Wage growth has been revised down from an already low 2.5% in the budget to 2.25% in MYEFO. With the Consumer Price Index forecast to grow at 2%, wages are barely keeping pace with inflation – growing in real purchasing power by only 0.25%.

This provides a meagre compensation for labour productivity growth which is implied to be about 1% in MYEFO. Wage growth is expected to pick up by 0.5% next year to 2.75%.

This is important because it underpins government revenue growth, yet it’s brave to expect the deep forces that are keeping wages down in Australia and around the world to turn around and exactly match the 0.5% growth in real GDP expected to occur next year.


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New measures since the budget have increased the deficit on both the revenue and expenditure sides of the budget. On the revenue side, for example, higher education changes reduced revenue by A$76 million and the GST by A$70 million.

The ConversationOn the expenses side, needs-based funding for schools has cost an additional A$118 million and improving access to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme costs A$330 million. The roll-out of the NDIS in Western Australia adds another cost at A$109 million, and Disability Care Australia at A$362 million.

Ross Guest, Professor of Economics and National Senior Teaching Fellow, Griffith University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Government budget update saved by higher than expected economic figures


Saul Eslake, University of Tasmania

The 2017-18 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) is another reminder – if one is needed – that the relationship between the budget and the economy runs in both directions. While we mostly ask the question, “how will the budget affect the economy?”, this update shows the economy can also have (and has often had) a significant impact on the the budget.

The highlights of this year’s MYEFO, as far as the government is concerned, are the A$9.3 billion improvement in the underlying cash balance over the four years to 2020-21 (compared with what had been forecast in the May budget), and the consequential A$11 billion reduction in the forecast peak in net debt (from A$366 billion to A$355 billion) in that year.

These improvements are the result of revisions to economic assumptions and other so-called “parameter variations” since the budget, which in total have improved the four-year bottom line by more than A$11 billion. The biggest of these came from reductions in payments to people with disabilities, students, single parents and age pensioners (totalling A$4.6 billion over four years) due to lower-than-expected recipient numbers.


Read more: Budget update shaves growth and wage forecasts but is brighter about the deficit


Personal income tax cuts seem possible

There is no additional detail in MYEFO regarding the government’s foreshadowed personal income tax cuts ahead of the next election. But if the forecast surplus for 2020-21 of A$10.2 billion is credible, then there’s arguably some scope for the government to fund personal income tax cuts beginning in that year.

Although the cost of more significant tax cuts would escalate substantially over the medium term, there is actually more scope for these cuts than generally realised (provided the government succeeds in keeping growth in spending under control).

That’s because the projected moderate surpluses, averaging about 0.5% of GDP out to 2027-28, incorporate an arbitrary assumption that taxation revenue will be capped at 23.9% of GDP. If that assumption wasn’t made, the projected surpluses would rise to 1.6% of GDP by 2027-28.

In dollar terms that would imply a surplus of around A$55 billion, compared with one of around A$15 billion if the surplus were only 0.5% of GDP. Over the period 2021-22 to 2027-28, relaxing the assumption that tax revenues are capped at 23.9% of GDP results in almost A$90 billion of additional budget surpluses. This is over and above what is projected with that “tax cap” in place.

Presumably, some of those “additional surpluses” are absorbed, in the government’s internal figuring, by the promised phased reduction in the company tax rate for businesses turning over more than A$50 million per annum by 2025-26 – which according to the last publicly available estimate would reduce revenues by some A$65 billion over ten years.

However, that would still leave a considerable amount “left over” to pay for personal income tax cuts, and allow the government to continue to project surpluses of around 0.5% of GDP out to the second half of the next decade.

That’s assuming, of course, that we are able to clock up 36 years of uninterrupted economic growth, and that all the other projections come to pass, including for a return to more “normal” rates of wages growth.

Economic indicators in MYEFO

Treasury has revised downwards its forecast for economic growth in the current financial year, from 2.75% to 2.5%. A large part of this revision comes from stronger growth in public spending, which is now forecast to rise by 4% in real terms in 2017-18, up from 2.5% at the time of the May budget.

This reflects faster growth in both government spending (on the NDIS) and investment (NBN and state government infrastructure investment). The forecast for business investment has also been upgraded, from flat at budget time to growth of 2%, the result of both stronger growth in non-mining business investment and a smaller decline in mining investment.

This is largely the result of a downward revision to the forecast for growth in household consumption spending which has been lowered from 2.75% to 2.25%: and this carries over into a 0.25 percentage point reduction in the forecast for 2018-19, to 2.75%. Even these require a further decline in the household saving rate.

The forecast for dwelling investment spending has turned around from 1.5% growth to a decline of 1.5%, with the “softening in dwelling investment occuring slightly earlier than expected”.

Longer term, the government is still anticipating that economic growth will average 3% per annum from 2018-19 through 2023-24, by which time all the “spare capacity” in the labour market will have been absorbed. That is, the unemployment rate will be down to 5% and underemployment (workers not being able to get enough hours at work) returned to more normal levels.

The ConversationThe longer-term projections also assume that wages growth accelerates significantly from 2019-20. This represents the greatest risk to the goverment’s promise of a return to surplus by 2020-21.

Saul Eslake, Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow, University of Tasmania

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Budget update shaves growth and wage forecasts but is brighter about the deficit


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The 2017-18 budget update shows an improvement in the deficit forecast for this financial year but predicts lower economic growth and a smaller increase in wages than was expected in the May budget.

The deficit for 2017-18 is now expected to come in at A$23.6 billion, an improvement of A$5.8 billion from the May forecast, according to the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook released by Treasurer Scott Morrison and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann.

Growth for this financial year is forecast to be 2.5% compared with the budget’s 2.75%, reflecting recent lower-than-expected growth in household consumption.

Nevertheless Morrison and Cormann said Australia’s growth story “remains a compelling one, and although real GDP growth has been slightly tempered in 2017-18, the trajectory is upward”. Real GDP is forecast to grow at 3% in 2018-19, the same as the budget number.

Budget update on wages

The update notes that wage growth “remains low by historical standards in both the public and private sectors and has been more subdued than expected since budget”.

Wages are forecast to increase by 2.25% through the year to the June quarter 2018 and 2.75% through the year to the June quarter 2019.

This is 0.25 of a percentage point lower in both years compared with the budget – vindicating the scepticism that economists expressed about the budget forecast being too optimistic.

The flat wages situation reflects a serious political pressure point for the government, as many people struggle with high power prices and other squeezes on their cost of living.

“Wage growth is forecast to lift as the economy strengthens, inflation picks up and excess capacity in the labour market is reduced,” the update says.

Budget receipts have been revised upwards by about A$3.6 billion in 2017-18 and A$2.8 billion over the forward estimates compared with budget time – driven mainly by company tax and superannuation tax. The company tax forecasts reflect increased profitability and enforcement activity by the Australian Taxation Office.

But “over the forward estimates, lower forecasts for wages and unincorporated business income are expected to weigh on individuals’ income tax receipts,” the update says.

The half yearly revised numbers confirm that the budget is on track to have a surplus in 2020-21. The projected surplus of A$10.2 billion in that year is A$2.7 billion better than estimated in May.

Savings measures on education and welfare

The government has announced in the update a new welfare crackdown to save money and also an alternative higher education savings package after it could not pass its earlier proposals.

Savings of A$1.2 billion over four years will be reaped by broadening the criteria for waiting periods for new migrants before they can get various welfare benefits.

The changes will extend the present two-year waiting period for a range of payments, such as Newstart, to three years, and introduce a consistent new three-year waiting period to apply to a further number of benefits such as Family Tax Benefit and Paid Parental Leave.

Social Services Minister Christian Porter said the measures “will reinforce the foundational principle that Australians’ expectation of newly arrived migrants is that they contribute socially and economically for a reasonable period before having access to our nation’s generous welfare system”.

The higher education package includes a freeze on total Commonwealth Grant Scheme funding from January 1, set at 2017 levels, and a combined limit for all tuition fee assistance under all HELP and VET Student Loans.

The government will also pursue an alternative set of HELP repayment thresholds from July 1 next year, with a new minimum repayment threshold of A$45,000, higher than the A$42,000 in the original plan. At present the threshold is A$55,000.

Most of the new higher education package doesn’t have to be legislated, thus avoiding the Senate hurdle. The previous higher education package was set to save A$2.7 billion over the forward estimates; the new one saves A$2.1 billion.

Real growth in payments over the budget period is expected to be an annual average of 1.9%. Compared with the budget, nominal payments are lower in every year of the forward estimates.

The payment to GDP ratio is expected to fall to 24.9% of GDP by 2020, slightly above the 30 year historical average.

Morrison told a joint news conference with Cormann: “As we push into the new year, there is still more work to be done but we are on the right track.

“Jobs and growth will continue to be our mission and our focus. Helping the lives of the thousands of Australians, millions of Australians, and their families and returning the budget back to balance.”

Cormann said: “This is a good set of numbers in all of the circumstances.”

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said the government remained committed to increasing the tax paid by working Australians. He said there was no mention of personal tax cuts – which Malcolm Turnbull has foreshadowed – in the update. People only got a tax rise.

He condemned the revised higher education package, saying it would particularly hit those from a lower socioeconomic background.

The ConversationThe chair of Universities Australia, Professor Margaret Gardner, said the package would leave university funding “frozen in time”. She said the blow would be hardest in areas where university attainment was lowest, such as regional areas.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Vital Signs: Australia heads into 2018 with mixed economic signals



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It’s hard to get a fix on where Australia’s economy is headed.
Garry Knight/Flickr, CC BY

Richard Holden, UNSW

Vital Signs is a weekly economic wrap from UNSW economics professor and Harvard PhD Richard Holden (@profholden). Vital Signs aims to contextualise weekly economic events and cut through the noise of the data affecting global economies.

This week: the housing market is still cooling, but not disastrously so, consumers remain optimistic, but business is cautious, and all eyes will soon turn to Christmas retail sales.


Since housing is the main thing that Australians seem to talk about (even when the Ashes is on), let’s start with that.

The ABS residential house price index for the September quarter showed a small decline Australia wide, with prices falling 0.2%. Sydney prices were down 1.4%, while Melbourne was still up 1.1%.

This was, as we are now used to, met with press commentary about how the housing boom is well-and-truly over, and with various other shrieks of angst. Really? Melbourne just didn’t grow as fast is it did before. And Sydney, though down 1.4% on the quarter, is still up a whopping 9.4% over the past 12 months.


Read more: Four ways an Australian housing bubble could burst


On one level, the reaction makes no sense at all. On another, as I wrote in a previous column, the implications of even modest falls could be large, given how residential lending is structured. If Australia’s banks are lending people a massive chunk of their disposable income, marking-to-market on a regular basis and issuing a lot of interest-only loans, then even small falls can have big effects on household spending and even defaults. And. They. Are.

The Westpac consumer sentiment index came in stronger than expected, rising 3.6% in December to 103.3 points (recall 100 in these indices is the breakeven between optimists and pessimists). Westpac’s chief economist Bill Evans said:

This is a surprisingly strong result and confirms the lift we have seen in the index over the last three months.

This contrasted with the news on business confidence. The NAB Monthly Business Survey business conditions index dropped 9 points. This still left it at +12, however, which is above the long-run average of +5 index points. Moreover, it appeared that some of the business concern was about wages edging higher, which would be a good thing for workers and the economy more generally.

As I have said in Vital Signs many times, sluggish wage growth has been a persistent problem among advanced economies, and Australia is no exception. Even early signs of an increase bode well for the economy more broadly – and business will ultimately benefit from that. But these are very early signs.

Unemployment in Australia remained stubbornly high at 5.4% in November. A large 61,600 jobs were created, but the labour force participation rate rose to 65.5%, leaving the overall unemployment rate unchanged. It will be important to see in coming months if that pace of job creation can be maintained – for that is a prerequisite for a genuine drop in unemployment.


Read more: Vital Signs: economics can’t explain why unemployment and inflation are both low


Thursday morning Australian time, the US Federal Reserve raised interest rates for the third time this year, bringing the target Fed Funds Rate to the 1.25-1.50% band.

The Fed also suggested in its statement that we can expect further, gradual rises, in 2018, saying:

The Committee expects that economic conditions will evolve in a manner that will warrant gradual increases in the federal funds rate; the federal funds rate is likely to remain, for some time, below levels that are expected to prevail in the longer run.

Most market participants interpret this as meaning we can expected three 25 basis point hikes next year.

As has been the case for some time now, the recovery in the US looks to be self-sustaining and robust. In Australia, we continue to see very mixed signals across different aspects of the economic map.

The housing market looms as a huge potential problem, with regulators only taking action relatively recently to begin to rein in the extravagant lending of a decade or more. And pretty modest action at that.

The ConversationThe next major thing to watch for in Australia is the all-important holiday season retail sales figures. And, as ever, the housing market.

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics and PLuS Alliance Fellow, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Older people now less likely to fall into poverty



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The incidence of poverty among people over 65 is decreasing in part because of increased labour force participation.
Col Ford and Natasha de Vere/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Guyonne Kalb, University of Melbourne

The risk of people past retirement age falling into poverty is now decreasing. There has been a substantial improvement compared to 15 years ago, when the incidence of poverty among the elderly was 32.4%.

People past retirement age are much more at risk of poverty compared to people of other ages. In 2014, 23% of people over 65 were identified as experiencing poverty, while among the general population this was 10.1%.

If we look at poverty in older age using three alternative, well-established, definitions: the Henderson Poverty Line, the OECD 50% poverty line and the OECD 60% poverty line, they all lead to very similar conclusions.


Read more: How we could make the retirement system more sustainable


The OECD 50% poverty line is defined as 50% of median household equivalent disposable income. Equivalised household income allows for differences in household composition, like the number of adults and children who live in the household. It therefore makes income comparable between households of different sizes. Someone is counted as poor if their equivalised disposable household income falls below this poverty line.

Applying this to data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics Australia (HILDA) survey shows clear differences between ages. There’s a much larger incidence of poverty among people over 65, as well as a larger decrease in the poverty rate among those over 65.

Between 2000 and 2014, the prevalence of income poverty among older people declined by more than 9 percentage points, well above the decline of other age groups.

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There are a number of reasons for this decrease in the poverty rate. One is the increase in labour force participation from 6.9% to 12.5% for this older group, whereas for other age groups labour force participation has remained quite stable.

Another reason is the larger increase in pension rates (which is the typical social security payment for people over 65) compared to allowance rates (which is the typical social security payment for working-age people). From an already high base, the payment rates for the oldest age group clearly increased by the most.

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These two reasons combined account for over 75% of the decrease in poverty incidence. Increased private pensions account for a further large part of the decrease (nearly 41%), while changes in investment income would have increased the poverty rate.

Why pensions are so important

This shows just how important public and private pensions are for the standard of living of older people. Given that more and more people will be covered by superannuation, we expect that poverty rates will further decline in the future. However, maintaining the value of public pensions is equally important as a substantial proportion of people over 65 will remain dependent on these payments.


Read more: How can we prevent financial abuse of the elderly?


Those dependent on the age pension include people with a disability during their working life, and many women, as they remain the ones who are more frequently out of the labour force and working part time to raise children. As a result, these groups have less opportunity to build up sufficient superannuation. However, the age pension may perhaps be better targeted.

Although the largest increases in income support are for those classified as poor (with the largest average increase observed for those over 65), the non-poor population over 65 also receives a substantial increase in income support.

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The increase in payments for people who aren’t poor and over 65 is nearly as large as the increase for those classified as poor who are aged 15 to 64. Payments for working-age people have only been increased with inflation, while pensions increased at the same rate as average earnings which has generally been higher than inflation.

The ConversationTo better alleviate poverty for our whole population, government payments for working-age people need to keep up with average earnings like the pensions do. If the government is not prepared to direct more resources to income support payments, they need to treat different age groups more equally. This means better targeting payments among our older population and using any savings to increase payments for the working-age population at a similar rate as pensions.

Guyonne Kalb, Professorial Research Fellow and Director of the Labour Economics and Social Policy Program, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

It would cost you 20 cents more per T-shirt to pay an Indian worker a living wage



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A farmer harvests cotton in Maharashtra, India.
Shutterstock

Murray Ross Hall, The University of Queensland and Thomas Wiedmann, UNSW

If we really care about protecting the people who make the things we wear and use, we need to raise wages for workers in supply chains to above the poverty line. Our research shows that this only requires a 20 cent increase in the Australian retail price for a T-shirt made in India.

This small increase can lift wages by up to 225% in India, closing the living wage gap for the most vulnerable workers in the supply chain, such as cotton farmers. The living wage gap is the difference between a living wage and current wages.


Read more: Explainer: what exactly is a living wage?


The living wage is the income required for a decent standard of living for a worker and their family. It lifts the worker above the poverty line and is defined by the costs to meet basic needs such as food and shelter. It also limits the number of working hours per week required to meet these needs.

A living wage has long been advocated as a way to support vulnerable and exploited workers. About 42% of all workers globally are in insecure jobs and have no social protections, 29% remain in moderate to extreme poverty and about 25 million people are in slavery.

Many of the goods we now buy are part of global supply chains. Since the 1980s the production of labour-intensive products such as textiles and footwear has shifted to countries with low-cost labour.

Cost-cutting often impacts those with the weakest bargaining position, such as cotton farmers – cotton prices have been on a downward trend over the past decade. Without realising it, our demand for low prices can cause vulnerable workers in other countries to work for less than a living wage.


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Our research calculated the living wage gaps in India, broken down by region, gender, skill and type of employment. For instance, female workers on cotton farms in Gujarat earn 207% below the living wage. Casual female workers in Haryana have a living wage gap of about 34%.

It would take on average a 15 cent price increase on T-shirts in Australia to close the living wage gap for cotton workers in India. Adding another five cents would close the living wage gap for Indian textile workers, and also account for the increase in agent fees, which are a percentage of the production costs.

The living wage gap may be larger or smaller on particular farms or factories, but a 20 cent increase on average would be sufficient to lift all Indian workers in the garment supply chain out of poverty.


Read more: Why the fashion industry keeps failing to fix labour exploitation


The small cost to address poverty and climate change for producing a T-shirt in India. Murray Hall.

How we can raise the living wage

The cost to close the living wage gap in developing countries is small because wages for workers in these countries make up only a fraction of the retail price charged in countries like Australia.

Our work shows it costs about A$5.30 to produce a T-shirt in a country like India and ship it to Australia. The remaining costs embedded in a A$25 T-shirt come from warehousing, distribution and retail costs within Australia itself.

As a result, a 20 cent increase represents a less than 1% increase in the Australian retail price. It would cost only another 40 cents to cover the cost of greenhouse gas abatement. This means an ethically made T-shirt would only cost 2.5% more than current prices.


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A roadblock to implementing living wages is simply knowing the source of materials. Only about 7% of fashion companies in Australia know where all of their cotton comes from. Unless an Australian retailer specifies the source of cotton, the decision is made by the overseas textile contractor, often based on price.

Another challenge is that we need an accepted method for calculating and auditing the payment of living wages in the supply chain. The retailer needs to know how much the cotton farmer should be paid and have a system to check it has been done.

Over the past four years consumer pressure has pushed fashion companies to understand their supply chains and to consider paying living wages, but there is still a long way to go.


Read more: What businesses can do to stamp out slavery in their supply chains


In 2012 a group of the world’s largest ethical trade organisations formed the Global Living Wage Coalition.

This organisation has developed a manual for measuring the living wage and requiring? living wages to be paid to their producers. The producers are audited along the supply chain and in return can advertise their compliance with ethical standards. Shoppers will soon be able to look for a label – similar to the Fairtrade symbol – to know that living wages have been paid throughout the supply chain.

The ConversationThe famous economist John Maynard Keynes argued that consumers are not entitled to a discount at the expense of the basic needs of workers. In fact, we only need to pay a small amount more to provide a living wage and make a big difference to the world’s poorest workers.

Murray Ross Hall, PhD Candidate, School of Earth and Environmental Science, The University of Queensland and Thomas Wiedmann, Associate Professor, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Three new reports add clarity to Australia’s space sector, a ‘crowded and valuable high ground’



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Three new reports examine Australia’s existing space capabilities, set them in the light of international developments, and identify growth areas and models for Australia to pursue.
136319147@N08/flickr , CC BY

Anthony Wicht, University of Sydney

Australia seems on the brink of embracing space in a coordinated manner, but how should we do it?

This week, the Australian government released three reports to help chart the future of Australia’s space industry. Their conclusions will feed into the review of Australia’s space industry underway by former CSIRO head Dr Megan Clark.

The reports examine Australia’s existing space capabilities, set them in the light of international developments, and identify growth areas and models for Australia to pursue. The promise is there:

  • Australia has scattered globally competitive capabilities in areas from space weather to deep-space communication but “by far the strongest areas” are applications of satellite data on Earth to industries like agriculture, communications and mining

  • Australian research in other sectors like 3D printing and VR is being translated to space with potentially high payoffs

  • global trends, including the demand for more space traffic management, play to our emerging strengths

  • the prize for success is real – the UK currently has an A$8 billion space export industry, and anticipates further growth.

While it is not the first time the government has commissioned this type of research, the updates are welcome given the fast pace of space innovation. Taken together they paint a picture of potential for the future of Australian space and a firm foundation for a space agency.


Read more: Five steps Australia can take to build an effective space agency


The rules of the game

The Global Space Industry Dynamics report from Bryce Space and Technology, a US-based space specialist consulting firm, sets out the “rules of the game” in the US$344 billion (A$450 billion) space sector.

The global space economy at a glance. Figures are from 2016, and shown in US$.
Marcella Cheng for The Conversation, adapted from Global Space Industry Dynamics Research Paper by Bryce Space and Technology, CC BY-NC-ND

It highlights that:

  • three quarters of global revenues are made commercially, despite the prevailing perception that space is a government concern
  • most commercial revenue is made from space-enabled services and applications (like satellite TV or GPS receivers) rather than the construction and launch of space hardware itself
  • commercial launch and satellite manufacturing industries are still small in relative terms, at about US$20.5 billion (A$27 billion) of revenues, but show strong growth, particularly for smaller satellites and launch vehicles.

The report also looks at the emerging trends that a smart space industry in Australia will try and run ahead of. Space is becoming cheaper, more attractive to investors and increasingly important in our data-rich economy. These trends have not gone unnoticed by global competitors, though, and the report describes space as an increasingly “crowded and valuable high ground”.

What is particularly useful about the report is its sharp focus on the three numbers that determine commercial attractiveness:

  1. market size
  2. growth
  3. profitability.

The magic comes through matching these attractive sectors against areas where Australia can compete strongly because of existing capability or geographic advantage.

The report suggests growth opportunities across traditional and emerging space sectors. In traditional sectors, it calls out satellite services, particularly commercial satellite radio and broadband, and ground infrastructure as prime opportunities. In emerging sectors, earth observation data analytics, space traffic management, and small satellite manufacturing are all tipped as potentially profitable growth areas where Australia could compete.

The report adds the speculative area of space mining as an additional sector worth considering given Australia’s existing terrestrial capability.


Read more: Space mining is closer than you think, and the prospects are great


It is encouraging that Australian organisations have anticipated the growth areas, from UNSW’s off-earth mining research, to Geoscience Australia’s integrated satellite data to Mt Stromlo’s debris tracking capability.

Australian capabilities

Australian capabilities are the focus of a second report, by ACIL Allen consulting, Australian Space Industry Capability. The review highlights a smattering of world class Australian capabilities, particularly in the application of space data to activities on Earth like agriculture, transport and financial services.

There are also emerging Australian capabilities in small satellites and potentially disruptive technologies with space applications, like 3D printing, AI and quantum computing. The report notes that basic research is strong, but challenges remain in “industrialising and commercialising the resulting products”.

Australian universities made cubesats for an international research project.

The concern about commercialisation prompts questions about the policies that will help Australian companies succeed.

Should we embrace recent trends and rely wholly on market mechanisms and venture capital Darwinism, or buy into traditional international space projects?

Do we send our brightest overseas for a few years’ training, or spin up a full suite of research and development programs domestically?

Are there regulations that need to change to level the playing field for Australian space exports?

Learning from the world

Part of the answer is to be found in the third report, Global Space Strategies and Best Practices, which looks at global approaches to funding, capability development, and governance arrangements. The case studies illustrate a range of styles.

The UK’s pragmatic approach developed a £5 billion (A$8 billion) export industry by focusing primarily on competitive commercial applications, including a satellite Australia recently bought a time-share on.


Read more: Collecting satellite data Australia wants: a new direction for Earth observation


A longer-term play is Luxembourg’s use of tax breaks and legal changes to attract space mining ventures. Before laughing, remember that Luxembourg has space clout: satellite giants SES and Intelsat are headquartered there thanks to similar forward thinking in the 1980s. Those two companies pulled in about A$3 billion of profit between them last year.

Norway and Canada show a middle ground, combining international partnerships with clear focus areas that benefit research and the economy. Norway has taken advantage of its geography to build satellite ground stations for polar-orbiting satellites, in an interesting parallel with Australia’s longstanding ground capabilities. Canada used its relationship with the United States to build the robotic “Canadarm” for the Space Shuttle and International Space Station, developing a space robotics capability for the country.

Canadarm played an important role in Canada-USA relations.

The only caution is that confining the possible role models to the space sector is unnecessarily limiting. Commercialisation in technology fields is a broader policy question, and there is much to learn from recent innovations including CSIRO’s venture fund and the broader Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) program.

As well as the three reports, the government recently released 140 public submissions to the panel.

The ConversationThere is no shortage of advice for Dr Clark and the expert reference group; appropriate given it seems an industry of remarkable potential rests in their hands.

Anthony Wicht, Alliance 21 Fellow (Space) at the United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why the big four asked for a parliamentary inquiry into banking


George Rennie, University of Melbourne

The major Australian banks are following familiar public relations tactics in requesting a parliamentary commission of inquiry into banking and financial services.

When the public mood is against an industry, it will try to win the public over, while getting the politicians to ignore the public mood. If that fails, the industry gradually concedes ground until attention goes elsewhere.

For this reason, the banks went from being steadfastly against a commission, to offering the option of self-regulation, to proposing a new “banking tribunal”, to eventually conceding, after the battle had already been lost, to a parliamentary inquiry.

The big problem for the banks, and a big part of the reason that their previous lobbying failed, is that their popularity with the Australian public is very low. This allowed, or pressured, politicians to call for the commission, and presents significant problems for the banks going forward, especially if they wish to avoid tougher regulation.


Read more: Royal commissions: how do they work?


The banks capitulated only once it became “all but inevitable” that an inquiry of some sort would be held.

Due to the recent citizenship saga, it was looking likely that a coalition of crossbench, Labor, Greens and some Nationals MPs would pass a bill for a commission of inquiry into the banks and other financial institutions.

Labor had already promised to set up a royal commission into the banking and financial services industry if it won the next election.

Concede ground only when it’s already lost

A royal commission will almost certainly bring many months of bad press for the banks.

As the industry has repeatedly made clear, it never wanted a royal commission. The banks claimed they had corrected the mistakes of the past and that a commission was “unwarranted”.

So the banking industry’s public and private lobbying efforts were geared towards convincing politicians to resist calls for the commission, while trying to boost public opinion by highlighting their corporate social responsibility.

This involved sacking executives over this scandal or that, removing certain ATM fees, and cutting bonuses and director pay.

The banks have also launched advertising campaigns, such as one highlighting that many Australians own bank shares through their superannuation.

Concurrently, the banks hoped that threatening to launch a “mining tax”-style ad campaign might scare politicians away from calling for a commission.

These campaigns have become a common threat since the success of the 2010 mining tax campaign opened corporate Australia’s eyes to the potential effectiveness of advocacy ads.


Read more: Banking royal commission will expose the real cost of bad behaviour


Tactics similar to those the banks are employing now have been used to varying degrees of success in the United States by the tobacco industry and the gun, finance and healthcare lobbies.

In 1998 the American tobacco industry agreed to make payments of over US$200 billion to dozens of states. But this happened only after decades of public education and campaigning against smoking.

Similarly, the American healthcare lobby successfully fought off several attempts to reform healthcare. Obamacare managed to pass in 2010 only after the industry got to substantively write it.

The public relations game

Appearing to co-operate and atone is the best way to try to influence the terms of an inquiry. It also helps to mitigate the worst of any bad press to come. This reflects a wider, pragmatic strategy of lobbying and public relations employed by the banks and other industries.

The focus for the banks will now shift towards damage control, along with heavy promotion of the banks “doing the right thing” by Australia.

To that end, expect to see even more banners proclaiming a bank’s sponsorship of the local footy team, and ads promoting the good work done in your local community.

The ConversationThese, along with an insistence that the commission is a witch hunt, that its findings are “old news”, that the banks have already taken steps to deal with the issue, will underpin the industry’s public relations battle while the royal commission takes place.

George Rennie, Lecturer in American Politics and Lobbying Strategies, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Banking royal commission will expose the real cost of bad behaviour


Jenni Henderson, The Conversation

Australia’s federal government has announced a royal commission into the financial services sector, following a letter from the big four bank heads supporting the move.

The commission will run for 12 months, delivering a final report in February 2019, at an estimated cost of A$75 million. It will explore not only banking but also the wealth management, superannuation and insurance industries.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had previously denied the need for a royal commission but said in announcing the move that political uncertainty had forced the decision.

“Uncertainty…over the potential for such an inquiry is starting to undermine confidence in our financial system. And as a result, the national economy. And that is precisely what we have always been determined to avoid,” he said.

The commission should be allowed to go on for longer, for closer to three years, because the 12-month period is the bare minimum, says Andrew Schmulow, a senior lecturer in the faculty of law at University of Western Australia.

“If the commission doesn’t find other skeletons in the closet, I will eat my hat,” he adds.

Schmulow believes there will be more revelations to come from the commission and that the banks will have to answer for covering up these as well.

“You can’t have this many scandals on this kind of scale without a corporate culture that is rotten to the core,” he said.

The royal commission won’t award compensation but will have the powers to compel the banks and other institutions to present documents and witnesses.

Earlier in the year, in an attempt to fend off a royal commission, the government announced a raft of new measures in the 2017 Federal Budget to address concerns surrounding the finance industry.

Timeline of Australian bank scandals

https://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/timeline3/latest/embed/index.html?source=16t5cJvvQqZqnJPl1M9C1t8fNOveF64OxTxKoPDZHJLc&font=Default&lang=en&initial_zoom=2&height=650

Timing of the announcement

Malcolm Turnbull defended the delay in calling the royal commission due to these measures.

“There would’ve been legitimate calls to delay any new measures until the findings of the inquiry were handed down. And that is one of the reasons why we have not established a banking inquiry to date,” he said.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten said the timing of the commission called into question the government’s credibility and said that Australians had every right to be cynical.

“It says everything about Turnbull’s values and priorities that he only agreed to Labor’s Royal Commission when the banks told him he had to. He ignored the pleas of families and small businesses, he rejected the words of whistle-blowers. But when the big banks wrote him a letter, he folded the same day.”

Turnbull’s move comes after the possibility of a Nationals bill on the same issue. Andrew Schmulow, said it was “stage managed”, designed to regain control on the terms of reference and the length of the commission.

“Turnbull either losses control or keeps a modicum of control. It’s one or the other,” Schmulow said.

Costs of a banking royal commission versus bad behaviour

The bank heads, in their letter to the government, described the deliberations on the commission as “costly and distracting”. But the real cost is to the economy and is a direct result of the bank behaviour, Schmulow said.

The funding costs of the banks are based on a risk profile which is underwritten by taxpayers through an implicit bank guarantee, which will only be affected if the government itself suffers a credit downgrade, Schmulow said.

Mum and dad investors are often brought up as having a vested interest in the banks’ strength through their superannuation. But Schmulow says a small portion of super is invested in the banks but it’s also invested in other things in the economy as well. He says investors’ savings are more likely to be hurt by the impact of the behaviour of the banks in other areas of the economy.

“They are already making so much profit off every individual and company that borrows money we have the most profitable banking sector in the world, you only get that by gouging,” Schmulow says.

Banks have traditionally prioritised shareholders and investors have had a superb return on equity said Elizabeth Sheedy, associate professor of financial risk management at Macquarie University.

But she said the community seemed to be wanting the balance to shift more in favour of the customer rather than returns and this raised fundamental questions about bank governance.

“Should remuneration be based on the metrics of concern to shareholders (profits, return on equity) or metrics of concern to customers (lack of complaints, value for money)? These fundamental questions are not going to be resolved in the ordinary course of business and a far-reaching inquiry seems to be a way that they can be thoroughly aired and debated,” Sheedy said.

“It seems that the community is prepared to pay that price in order to create a better deal for customers,” she added.

The commission won’t examine regulators like the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) or the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) who have recently been given more power to hold the banks to account.

The regulators have been criticised in the past for their inaction on scandals in the banking and financial sectors. But Andy Schmulow said the royal commission would show up their inaction and raise serious questions about who was watching the watchdogs.

Eliza Wu, associate professor in finance at the University of Sydney says the banking sector’s exposure to the real estate market and the lack of regulatory oversight of the fintech and peer-to-peer lending sectors, were a worry.

The Conversation“The heavily disrupted world of banking and finance is evolving very quickly and the regulators and often industry operators themselves, exist under an unforgiving regime of catch-up,” she said.

Jenni Henderson, Section Editor: Business + Economy, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.